Scientists have found that sea cucumbers harness their wound healing abilities to regrow their organs.
Jose San Miguel-Ruiz and Jose Garcia-Arraras of the University of Puerto Rico say that the discovery that Holothuria glaberrima uses similar cellular mechanisms during wound healing and organ regeneration.
Many people, including scientists, regard sea cucumbers and other echinoderms like star fish and brittle stars as bizarre, exceptional outcasts because of their regenerative abilities. But we've shown that they use the same 'ordinary' mechanisms and processes to both regenerate and heal wounds," he added.
The researchers made observations over a four-week healing period, and found that sea cucumbers healed up rapidly after receiving a 3 to 5 millimetre cut along the body wall.
They have revealed that the repair process involved special cells called morula cells moving to the injury site, and that full repair was achieved after just a couple of weeks.
The researchers have also revealed that the cellular events observed during the healing of sea cucumber muscular, nervous and dermal tissues include extracellular matrix remodelling and the dedifferentiation of muscle cells. They say that these events correspond to those observed during intestinal regeneration.
While all animals have wound repair processes, only some animals can regenerate injured or lost body parts.
The researchers believe that there must be some unusual properties of the healing processes found in animals capable of organ regeneration.
They say that it still remains to be seen at a molecular level what limits healing processes being used for regeneration by all animals in all tissue.
"Many of these regenerative mechanisms are the same as those being used by other animals to heal and repair - this includes us humans. Sea cucumbers will probably provide us with the key to deciphering how to regenerate our tissues, or at least find out what is needed to do this," said Professor Garcia-Arraras.
The study has been published in the online open access journal BMC Developmental Biology